Bible Reading: 1 Timothy 6:1-2
The apostle Paul gives clear instructions about the relationship between Christian slaves and their masters. Historians have estimated that half of the population of the Roman Empire were composed of slaves, many of whom were educated and cultured but were not considered persons at all. Many of these slaves had become Christians. Imagine what the message of freedom in Christ would mean to them. In Christ they had value, meaning, purpose and a hope, and belonged to a Christian fellowship of similarly minded people.
We can imagine how some of these slaves, enjoying their newfound freedom in Christ, might rebel against their masters. Although now Christian believers, and enjoying the fellowship of other believers, it did not change their social status. It is against this cultural backcloth that Paul teaches about the right attitude of slaves to their masters. This may well remain the case in parts of the Middle East where in many cases ethnic minorities are treated as slaves without rights, but the same principles also apply to the relationship between employers and employees.
Firstly, employees should honour their employers so that God’s name and the teaching of His word should not be defamed [verse 1]. Secondly, a Christian employee should not be disrespectful towards their employer if he is a Christian, but rather rejoice that he and his employer are brothers in Christ, and that his service as an employee will either directly or indirectly benefit other believers [verse 2]. The Christian employee should not expect special favours of their Christian employer simply on the grounds of their common faith. His work should be exemplary and this, rather than words spoken in working hours, should be a testimony that brings glory to God.
Why did Paul encourage slaves to have a godly attitude to their masters rather than attacking slavery? Perhaps it was because he realised that the gospel would be hindered if the church were perceived as a militant group trying to undermine the social order of the day. Society will only be changed as individuals are changed. It is said that the revival in the days of Wesley changed the course of history and the revolution that was taking place in France was averted. The church did not attack the social evils of its day, but it was the personal change of attitude that Christ brought into the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals that brought about the change in society.
Someone has made the statement, “I can change no one. I must first change. If I change, then others around me might change.” Do you agree with this statement, and if so why?
In the light of Paul’s writing, what is the best way to see a society change?
In what way could you be a witness for Christ in the place where you work?